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The Torcise Family

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Posted: Friday, February 6, 2015 11:44 am | Updated: 1:43 pm, Thu Feb 12, 2015.

With thanks to Steve Torcise. Part of the series Florida City Celebrates 100th Anniversary.

  Giuseppi Torcise and Domenica Zangri Torcise both came to the United States from Sicily.  Giuseppi to New York City in 1911 and Domenica came to Boston in 1912. She was a seamstress in a garment factory and he was a boiler fireman.

  They married in 1916 in LawrenceMassachusetts. They opened a grocery store in Lawrence which they operated for 16 years. Because of arthritis Giuseppi came to FloridaCity in 1922 but Domenica and the children stayed in Lawrence until 1924.

  They lived at SW 3rd Street and 3rd Avenue. The Torcises were one of the earliest of the Italian American farmers. They grew tomatoes and were one of the largest tomato farmers. They packed their tomatoes at their home under a tarpaulin tent. Using a hard tire, chain driven Mack truck they hauled their tomatoes to Miami for shipment to New York by ship. They owned the second crawler tractor in South Florida, a Cletrac. Son Steve now collects antique tractors in a private museum in North Carolina.

  Giuseppi had a local fertilizer franchise. He helped men who worked for him by giving them a small piece of land to farm and helped them with the purchase of seed and fertilizer.

  Domenica insisted that the house they bought had to have an indoor toilet. William Geronimo’s brother Anthony sold the Torcises their home next home at 451 West Palm. The parents lived at the house on Palm Drive until the end of their lives.

  They built a high end restaurant , called the American-Italian Restaurant on the lot on the south side of Palm Drive now called Rosita’s. They later sold the business to Lucio “Jimmy” Accursio, the father of the Florida City Accursios. Later the Moraldo family bought it and renamed it the Flamingo Bar. President Franklyn D. Roosevelt passed through FloridaCity in 1939 on his way to Key West. Steve remembers his parents talking about feeding the President breakfast and receiving a thank you note from him

  In 1937 the Torcises built the Palms Hotel which was just north of Palm Drive facing east toward the Florida East Coast Railway tracks. The Palms Hotel was state of the art for its time.  On the first floor were two commercial spaces, one occupied by Florida Power and Light, and Daughter Mary operated a café in the hotel. There were also six apartments on the first floor.  Steve remembers that an FBI agent occupied one of the apartments during WWII. It was thought that the agent’s assignment was keeping track of Italian- and German-Americans. In fact one Redland German-American was imprisoned after WWII for assisting Nazi Germany. The Torcise’s packing house in 1948 was just across the FEC tracks to the east. In 1952 Mary and her husband Tony Gucciardo took over running the hotel. They later built the Coral Roc Motel on Krome Avenue in 1965 and sold the Palms Hotel to Jim Smith.

  The father Giuseppi was one of the key players in the establishment of the Florida City State Farmers Market in 1939. In the 1930s and 40s he hired as many as 100 farm workers during the season. He provided an early, basic form of employee healthcare by paying the local doctors and the hospital for his workers’ treatment.

Grace and her mother Domenica Torcise
Grace and her mother Domenica Torcise at their family home on Palm Drive.

  Giuseppi Torcise died in 1954. All three sons Sam, Steve and Joe worked with their dad farming.  All three sons served their county in the Army. They made an agreement with the local draft board to serve sequentially so they could continue the family farm. Sam served in the Armored Corps in Germany 1952-54. Steve then served in the Army in Germany 1954-56 operating a motor pool. The youngest Joe served in the Army in Korea 1956-58 as a general’s driver. Sister Grace married Frank Carroll a career Air Force man assigned to the Strategic Air Command and they lived in many places. After he retired Frank worked for the Naval Security Group Activity Homestead. He was a very patriotic man.

  Sam was the politician of the family. In 1954 not long after he was discharged from the Army he was the top vote getter in the election for town council and was elected president of the council by his peers. He made new roads and water and sewer service his emphasis. Others who served with Sam were Mayor William Geronimo, councilmen Alonso Lewis, Harry H. Bagler, Harry Cuchiella and Sam Tomassi. Willie Fasulo was the marshal and Rick Schmunk was the town clerk.  Sam served several more terms.

  Steve served as chair of the Florida City Charter Review Board in 1956 and helped hire John Green as FloridaCity’s city manager. Green later became assistant Dade Co. manager. Steve facilitated the transfer of the old Dade Co, rock pit on Redland Road which is now FasuloPark, to FloridaCity and donated the work to make it a park.  He also brought a Little League franchise to FloridaCity.

  In 1948 Steve became Chief of the Florida City Volunteer Fire Department which was then a year old.  The town had a CCKW fire truck on an Army chassis. With its 1,400 gallon water tank it was well suited to FloridaCity which had no water hydrants at that time, just wells. Steve was the nation’s youngest fire chief and went on to serve as chief for 18 years until 1966. The City turned the Fire Department over to DadeCounty in 1951 and a good relationship continued.

  Brother Joe took over the family farming operation in 1964 and he became one of the largest tomato growers in Florida. He was selected by the Farm Bureau as Farmer of the Year.

  Sam and Steve went into the construction business after leaving the family farming operation.

  Bob Jensen is Vice President for Community Liaison at 1st National Bank of South Florida, President of the FloridaPioneerMuseum, and a retired Navy Commander.

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